Septuagesima – Year A STM, Feb. 16
Sir 15:15–20; Ps 119:1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34; 1 Cor 2:6–10; Matt 5:17–37
“Blessed are those who walk in the Law of the Lord.”
We begin the pre-Lenten season using the traditional violet vestments and omitting the singing of Gloria in Excelsis in accordance with the customary practice of the Church in harmony with the Ordinariate Calendar of the POCSP. We mark our need for penitence hearing the words of Jesus telling us in the Gospel this week that He has come not to abolish but to “fulfill” the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets.
Far from the notion current today in North America that traditional rules are only guidelines, if that, and that the teaching on faith and morals from the Magisterium of the Church may be temporized or dismissed, the Gospel today reveals a deeper meaning and purpose.
The Decalogue or Ten Commandments and the Law of the Old Testament are not abolished by Christ but fulfilled. The Gospel fulfills and also transcends the Law. Jesus calls us to a morality more demanding than that accomplished by the most pious of Jews of his day, the scribes and Pharisees.
Outward observance of the Law is not enough, Jesus teaches. It is not enough that we do not murder, commit adultery, divorce, or lie.
The Law of the new covenant is a Law of Love that God writes on the human heart (see Jer. 31:31–34). The Law as we summarize at the beginning of every [Ordinariate Rite] Mass is the love of God first and above all and following from that love of one another.
“With all thy heart.” The heart is the seat of our motivations, the place from which our words and actions proceed (see Matt. 6:21; 15:18–20).
John Henry Newman’s personal motto was cor ad cor loquitur: Heart speaks to heart. His motto speaks of God’s Heart in relationship with us by means of God’s covenant based upon both Law and the Gospel. The very Heart of God, then, speaks to us through both in the fullness of the principles of the Law and through the perfection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls us to open our hearts and then, by grace, to master our wills, our passions and our emotions. This is not automatic or magical it is, for Catholics, the process of sanctification to which we submit ourselves through the disciplines of Confession and spiritual discipline – prayer, works of corporal mercy and so on. All by grace but depending upon our co-operation with the grace which flows from the Heart of God.
This pre-Lenten season in the traditional calendar adopted by the Ordinariate and approved by the Holy See re-introduces to a society which is bent on comfort and self-gratification, a model, a canon or measure, a standard against which to measure ourselves as well as a goal and an ever higher possibility of spiritual growth as we accompany Jesus in our daily walk.
This is not to discourage us with our failures. Rather, through the awareness that is ours by measuring ourselves against Law and Gospel, God provides grace for healing and development. At times this is faster at times slower, but it is God’s work in us . . . if we allow it.
So it is that our relationship with Jesus demands the full obedience of our hearts (Rom. 6:17). He calls us to love God with all our hearts, and to do his will from the heart (Matt. 22:37; Eph. 6:6) out of love for him and for our brothers and sisters.
God never asks more of us than we are capable of and because we fail this does not mean that the standard is too high. It means that when we confess our failure and try again and again, we are sanctified.
That is the message of this week’s First Reading (Sir 15:15–20). It is up to us to choose life over death, to choose the waters of eternal life over the fires of ungodliness and sin. It is a daily choice with daily grace provided.
By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has shown us that it is possible to keep the commandments. What we are called to in the new covenant we are given strength to do from the heart. In baptism, God has given us his Spirit that his Law might be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:4).
Some will ask if we are to fulfill the Law why does that not mean we must keep the whole Law in every ceremonial detail, including the dietary and the ritual law as well.
First of all: The wisdom of the Gospel surpasses all the wisdom of this age that is passing away, St. Paul tells us in the Epistle. The revelation of God’s wisdom fulfills God’s plan from before all ages. It is a wisdom which probes to the purpose and the principles of the Law.
Secondly: As Catholics we have the Magisterial teaching of the Church revealing the core principles of the Law and its present application through, for example, the feasts and fasts of the Christian Year (e.g. pre-Lent and Lent) which is one of the five precepts of the Church, which include attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, Confession of Sins (as mentioned), reception of Holy Communion and providing for the needs of the Church.
The call to acts of spiritual corporal mercy as well as our own spiritual disciplines outlined above is also at the heart of God’s Law and Gospel. In these acts of corporal (physical) mercy our hearts are able to communicate with the hearts of others and so to reflect the grace which we have received from the Heart of God in and through the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:
“ The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities (from the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great). Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are the spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal [physical] works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned . . .”
In the spirit of this week’s Psalm, let us pray that we may grow, becoming better able to live the Gospel of Christ, seeking the Father with all our heart.
“Blessed are those who walk in the Law of the Lord.”